I imagine the fibres in my muscles tearing, each little strand being pulled apart like pieces of string. I clench my teeth at every jostle, the books in my arms becoming heavier, step by step. Not far now. Another box, all of her belongings in boxes, carefully arranged into piles. Keep. Donate. Sell. Rain falls in big, hard droplets onto the books I’m carrying. Shit. I try to walk faster, try to cover the books with my body, but the droplets fall faster, harder, making dents and rivulets on their spines. I lurch into the bookshop. Dust rises up in little spirals in the air, floats and settles. A woman sits behind the sales desk, all wide eyes and paper pale skin, nonchalant at my entrance. I place the box gingerly on the counter, my arms aching with the release of weight.
“All in good condition?” The wide-eyed woman peers under her spider-leg eyelashes. I nod, bullets of water dropping shrapnel onto the desk and her face.
“Take a seat or have a look around then,” she mutters, wiping her cheek dry.
A familiar heat rises and gathers pressure behind my eye sockets. The strange storm light illuminates dust in the air, and with every inhalation I think about it all entering my body, dancing down my throat and into my lungs. Dust made of old pages and skin particles.
In every book I feel her, her hands turning pages, fingertips tracing lines, reading the words her eyes and brain understood in tandem. In them she lives, the moments where she paused, memorialised with underline, or her thoughts scribbled in margins, now indelible. The years of her life measured steadily with inscriptions: ‘Happy 15th birthday my darling’, ‘wishing you a happy 21st’, ‘30 already! Hope this year is the best!’. In looking at their covers I am looking through frosted glass back in time. I remember books sitting by her bedside for years until the perfect moment arose, I picture her perched on the balcony at Christmas, too hot to do anything but sit and read, or sinking into the couch, wrapped in a blanket and in rapt attention. With a cough and a small jerk of her head the woman beckons me, and I force my feet to step towards her.
“Look I can’t give you much. Eighteen bucks?” She stares up at me, unblinking, and for a moment it seems like her eyes are all pupil, like an eclipse. Outside, the rain streams in unending sheets, becoming not singular droplets but a united army, racing towards the ground. That familiar heat rises unbidden to my cheeks and the back of my neck, my eyes heavy with salt. I dig my fingers into my arms, a savage massage for muscles not used to heavy lifting. I wonder what books will fill her house now, what new memories will be made in those shelves which look so strangely empty, too big for the space, and too bare. When I look down, I realise my fingernails have left angry half-moons in my arms’ soft flesh.
I take the cash. Two notes and two coins. When I step outside, the rain hits me like a punch, the dust washing off my hair, my clothes, my skin, its smell lingering in the air.